My name is Sophie Tian and I am a master’s student in computer science at the University of Washington. Eric Brenchner was my manager when I did a summer internship at Microsoft in 2018. At the start of the internship, he worked with me to decide on a project that would fit my skill, experience, and interests, as well as the team’s needs. He patiently helped me learn how to determine what I needed to know to decide on a project, how to ask clarifying questions, and how to prioritize what I wanted to do.
There were many moments during my internship where I realized how fortunate I was to have Eric as my manager. Some examples:
- I am Deaf, female, and Asian. I often felt my voice wasn’t heard, and it was hard to speak up for myself in an industry environment. I trusted Eric enough to be honest with him about my struggles. He was extremely supportive. He talked with me through my fears and encouraged me to speak up for myself. During our team meetings, he would often check on me by asking, “Sophie, do you have anything to add?”. This gave me an opportunity to speak and become comfortable adding my input. As the summer progressed, I became much more confident in both my work environment and in my overall interactions with people.
- Near the end of the internship, a series of unexpected and disruptive events happened. I had to work remotely for a week to help a friend. My return flight was delayed so I couldn’t return on time. To top it off, lightning struck our datacenter in Texas, so I lost a development package. Because this cost us so much time and, as often happens, some other things didn’t go as expected during the development process, it seemed impossible for me to finish the last task to demo our project as planned. Three days before our demo, Eric saw how stressed I was. He talked to me and said, “If you cannot finish this. I am happy with what you have now. You can just demo what you have.” This was an enormous relief, and with a much lighter mood I managed to push through the last task and demo the final product. In the end, Eric said, “You know, if you are super stressed, it won’t be fun. If you can take off the mental load, magic might happen.”
- During that summer, I also faced a very hard decision about my future: I had a potential opportunity to become a full-time employee at Microsoft, and I also was accepted to graduate school at the University of Washington. Eric helped me to understand the pros and cons of each choice and eventually I made the decision to get my master’s. He fully supported my decision. I am extremely grateful that I will be able to return to Eric’s team when I complete my degree.
Eric is not only an excellent software engineer and leader, but also an experienced, brilliant, and genuine mentor. He has interests far beyond software, and we often discussed books in many genres–he recommended some that I found fascinating. Working with him has vastly broadened my horizons, and I view him as a trustworthy friend.